Launched by Women as a Tribute to Their Service, This Ship Served Her Country

September 26, 1944

With the United States still fighting the Axis powers during World War II, the U.S. Navy cargo ship USS Beltrami was launched. Beltrami, which had been named after a county in northwestern Minnesota, was built by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company at its shipyards in Richmond, California.

The launch of Beltrami at Richmond Shipyard Number 4 was unique for that time because it was conducted by females only as “a tribute to women in industry and the armed forces,” reported the Berkeley Daily Gazette. The evening ceremony opened with a presentation of the colors by a guard composed of servicewomen from both the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and the U.S. Naval Reserve, Women’s Reserve (the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES).

During the ceremony, Beltrami was christened by her sponsor Dollie Thrash. A 40-year-old grandmother and one-time schoolteacher, Dollie worked at the Richmond shipyards along with her husband Marvin on behalf of the war effort. Dollie had made history in 1942 when she became the first certified female shipfitter in the United States. This pioneering role, along with the fact that she helped put together the various parts of Beltrami, made her a natural choice to serve as the sponsor of that new ship.

Another key part of the ceremony involved having two other female workers use torches to burn off the large steel plates keeping Beltrami in place, so that the vessel could slide into the water after being christened. This marked the first time during a U.S. Navy ship launch that women performed that particular task.

A little over three months after being launched, Beltrami was officially commissioned into the Navy. She was subsequently deployed to transport frozen food to the city of Longview in Washington State and lumber to Hawaii. By March 1945, the crew of Beltrami had sailed to the western region of the Pacific Ocean to help out with wartime operations and provide freight service to such destinations as the Solomon Islands, the Admiralty Islands, the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, and Guam. Beltrami also provided logistical support for U.S. troops fighting in the Battle of Okinawa, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

One of the more notable post-war activities in which Beltrami took place was the 1946 expedition known as Operation Nanook. This naval mission was part of a large-scale effort to set up a series of weather stations in the Arctic regions of the Western Hemisphere. Beltrami was used during Operation Nanook to deliver equipment and materials to the settlement of Thule (the present-day town of Qaanaaq) in Greenland for the construction of both a weather station and emergency airstrip.

Beltrami remained in service for nearly another decade. For the most part, she operated along the Atlantic coast in North America, transporting cargo to naval stations as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as the Panama Canal Zone. Over time, however, Beltrami increasingly became obsolete with the construction of larger and faster cargo ships. Beltrami was decommissioned in 1955. Her name was finally struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1960, and she was sold for scrap that same year to Hugo Neu Steel Products. For more information on USS Beltrami, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Beltrami_(AK-162) and https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/b/beltrami-i.html.

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